One of the oldest, most established web directories is Uncover the Net.  Its owner, Shawn Walter, generously agreed to an interview.

1. Please provide a brief biography so that my readers know who you are.

Well, I’m in my late twenties, and live in a suburb of Chicago.  I started working online as a web designer back in I guess 2000.  Then I took our other businesses that were print, tv & radio based to web based and from there never turned back!  Then worked for some SEO firms as a consultant.  But realized I could do better working for myself.  Now I live online.

2. Why did you start a directory?

I always thought the idea of a search engine powered by humans instead of machines was a really cool idea.  I also saw many flaws in the directories at that time.  So I made a list of all the things I didn’t like about other directories and tried to make sure ours didn’t include any items on that list.

3. What about Uncover the Net makes you the proudest?

Probably what makes me the proudest is when I get an email from an everyday user that goes out of their way to send an email telling us how they like our site.  I remember once we got a letter in the mail explaining how they used our search engine for a project in school and they wanted to thank us.  I just think that’s amazing.  I know many people use Google and other spider based search engines, but sometimes especially on highly specific topics, directories are your best bet.

4. How did Uncover the Net develop its taxonomy?

Myself and the editors at the time developed the structure.  I would say that much of it is a combination of Yahoo Dir, DMOZ, and common sense.  I have to thank Michael as he helped the most.

5. How do you go about ensuring editorial integrity at Uncover the Net given the number of editors you have? How do you go about finding quality editors for Uncover the Net?

Well, we have a program that checks for dead links, adult content and a few other triggers.  When reviewing a site for the first time, we’re actually not as strict as people tend to think we are.  I’m not saying we’ll accept MFA websites.  But I think some directories go overboard when dictating what sites to accept and not accept.  If a website has heavy advertising content that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a valuable resource.  If we used that philosophy, About.com would be rejected every time. We also don’t punish anyone for having bad site design.  In short, if we think the website ads value to a searcher’s experience we will add it.  If it ruins the experience, it won’t be added.

6. What do you look for in a quality directory?

High ratio non-paid listings to paid listings.  Editorial integrity.  Titles that aren’t all keyword based.  Descriptions that are clearly written and not just sales copy.  Relevant search results.  More than just a list of links.  I guess the list goes on.

7. What do you think of SEOMoz’s page strength tool as a measurement of the quality of a directory?

Don’t know, never really used it before.  I don’t believe a tool
can determine the value of a website.  I’d look at the website itself.

8. How many hours per week do you work? How do you manage to balance work and family life? What hobbies and interests do you have outside of work?

I work too much.  I guess I work about 10 hours/day.  I have my laptop with me wherever I go.  My hobbies, well I love movies.  And I splurged and had a home theater built in our house, so I pretty much live in there now.  It really helps me unwind.

9. What do you think the future holds for the directory industry, both for the coming year and the long term future?

Hmm, that’s a tough one.  If you mean strictly a directory, I think it has a limited lifespan.  In fact, when people ask me what Uncover the Net is, I just say it’s a human powered search engine.  Everyone seems to love that concept.  Most people don’t even know what a “web directory” is.  Many probably think its an online phone book.  Directories will have to evolve to keep users interested in using them.  For instance, they’ll need to make sure they offer a ton of features in addition to just categorized links of the web.

10. With improving search algorithms and the rise of social bookmarking websites, is the job of building a quality and comprehensive directory becoming irrelevant?

Not at all.  In fact it’s becoming more important than ever.  Even Google is starting to cross the line of advertising and content with their new PPA ads.  Soon enough the entire web will be one big Viagra commercial.

11. Could you give me one concrete recommendation as to how to improve Aviva?

Well, like the movie, build it and they will come.  What I mean is build the directory for searchers, make them happy and I guarantee the webmasters will come.

12. Any interesting developments for Uncover the Net coming in the near future that you can reveal?

Tons.  Most are all in development stages though.  The biggest news is that our entire software/website is being rebuilt and should be ready in a few months with tons of new features.

Thanks for opportunity Jeff!

Thanks Shawn and best wishes!

Other interviews of Shawn:
http://www.search-marketing.info/newsletter/articles/shawn-utn.htm

Interviews of other Directory Owners:
Greg Hartnett of BOTW
Dimitris Kessaris of 2yi